Bill Barr is back: He wants to "reopen" the country — and undo the Russia probe

Barr's boss is in big trouble — so the Law Walrus is riding to the rescue, promising revenge for the Russia probe

By Heather Digby Parton


Published April 10, 2020 9:55AM (EDT)

U.S. Attorney General William Barr speaks about the Justice Department's Russia investigation into the 2016 presidential campaign, during the Wall Street Journal's annual CEO Council meeting, at the Four Seasons Hotel on December 10, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by  (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
U.S. Attorney General William Barr speaks about the Justice Department's Russia investigation into the 2016 presidential campaign, during the Wall Street Journal's annual CEO Council meeting, at the Four Seasons Hotel on December 10, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

New White House chief of staff Mark Meadows announced this week that onetime Trump campaign spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany will become the White House press secretary. The campaign is looking for a replacement and it seems that Attorney General William Barr may be auditioning for the role. Judging from his two-night interview with Laura Ingraham, he is as enthusiastic about the boss as one of the famed Mar-a-Lago Trumpettes.

We hadn't heard much from Barr since he was scathingly chastised by a federal judge last month for his  "lack of candor" in public descriptions of the Mueller report, saying that Barr had "distorted the findings" of the April 2019 report in his notorious press conference and a letter to lawmakers. The judge demanded a full copy of the Mueller report to review in order to decide whether to reveal the entire document, without redactions. 

It's not every day that the attorney general of the United States is personally castigated by a federal judge. But it was obviously too much to hope that Barr had taken his criticism to heart and had decided to play it straight. His return to the spotlight this week showed that while he may not have contracted the coronavirus, his Fox News brain rot is still raging out of control.

Ingraham has two main hobbyhorses at the moment. She believes that the response to the virus is an attack on civil liberties and that the quick cure for the disease is Dr. Trump's magic elixir, hydroxychloroquine. She also believes that anyone who disagrees with this is part of a plot to take down her beloved president. So it was within that framework that Barr gave his interview, and he did not disappoint.

Under intense questioning about whether freedom of religion was being infringed by the shutdown, he managed to say that public health measures are acceptable for a short period and then went on to parrot Trump's maxim that "the cure can't be worse than the disease," and even suggesting that more people will die of cancer because researchers are unable to continue their work during the shutdown. He made it clear that he thinks the government should be opened sooner rather than later :

I think we have to be very careful to make sure this is — you know, that the draconian measures that are being adopted are fully justified, and there are not alternative ways of protecting people. And I think, you know, when this — when this period of time is — at the end of April expires, I think we have to allow people to adapt more than we have and not just tell people to go home and hide under the bed,

The "adaptations" he had in mind were unclear, recommending vague "protocols" for restaurants and throwing around terms like "PPE" as if he were the head epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health. For all his alleged concern with civil liberties he seemed to indicate that he thinks restrictions on travel would be a positive consequence of this crisis. At least that's what it sounded like, since he talked about stricter border laws being a good way to prevent pandemics. After all, viruses don't recognize citizenship or nationality. If you can't let people come in, in an attempt to protect yourself from infection, you can't let people out either. Otherwise, they might bring it back.

It was obvious that Barr has been spending a lot of time watching Fox News. Unprompted, he let loose with a hydroxychloroquine rant worthy of Sean Hannity himself:

Barr apparently missed this exchange on his favorite channel the other day in which Dr. William Haseltine, a renowned biologist and retired Harvard professor, took Fox News host Dana Perino to task for pushing this drug with little evidence to back it up.

The blowback over this alleged miracle cure being relentlessly touted by Trump and his friends at Fox News isn't coming from the press or the Democrats. It's coming from the medical community, which is appalled that the president of the United States would use his platform to push unproven drugs based on the recommendation of TV quacks and his own "feelings."

I guess everyone's an armchair epidemiologist these days, but the Fox News coronavirus coverage is actually dangerous. The fact that the president and the attorney general consider their blather as a basis for policymaking is kind of terrifying.

But Barr did make some more serious news when he went on a tirade about the Russia investigation. Last December, when the inspector general of the Justice Department released his report that took the FBI to task for its FISA process in pursuing a onetime Trump campaign adviser, Barr declared it would be a travesty "to spy on political opponents, but also to use them in a way that could affect the outcome of the election." He said he would withhold his judgment until the "investigation of the investigation" by special counsel John Durham was complete.

Durham has filed no report, but Barr's not waiting any longer to say what's on his mind. He told Ingraham that "what happened to [Trump] was one of the greatest travesties in American history. Without any basis, they started this investigation of his campaign, and even more concerning actually is what happened after the campaign — a whole pattern of events while he was president … to sabotage the presidency — or at least have the effect of sabotaging the presidency."

That directly contradicts his own inspector general's conclusions. And it comes with a serious threat:

There's a reason Barr came out of his bunker now. Times are tough, people are getting nervous and the Trumpian base needs some inspiration. What could be better than some sweet, sweet revenge?

As the Washington Post's Aaron Blake points out, this should come as no surprise. Before Barr was even a gleam in Trump's eye, he wrote a long unsolicited memo to the White House explaining that he didn't believe the Russia investigation was justified. He even told a reporter later that the predicate for pursuing the supposed scandal around Hillary Clinton and Uranium One was far stronger than that for the Russia probe. 

His mind was made up about this long before he became attorney general. It's why he was hired as Donald Trump's main legal henchman in the first place. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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